ABU DHABI // The country’s first female football star could very well come from the capital.
That’s where Manchester City opened its latest City Football Schools season with an all-girls training programme for the first time in the UAE.
As the football school enters its sixth season in the UAE, it is welcoming a record 60 girls between the ages of three and 16 years, all of whom are taking part in the first term of its training programme, which began last month.
“That’s an astronomical number compared to what we had two or three years ago,” said City Football School head coach Simon Hewitt. “It’s grown a lot.”
The school has always invited girls to join the programme but this is the first season that enough girls registered to support a full girls-only session.
“Before, they were trained with the boys and now we’ve got enough girls now to actually really focus on the development of the girls,” said Mr Hewitt. “We have a big emphasis now as a football group on women’s football. So it’s important here now in the UAE that we also grow the programme and obviously get as many girls as we can playing the game that we all love.”
The sport’s increasing popularity here has also prompted CFS to add more venues and bring in additional coaches.
“We started with a 10-week programme, which was just about coming here and seeing the young players and whether there was an interest in football,” Mr Hewitt said, recalling the school’s inaugural year in 2011. “And every year since, we’ve grown the numbers. We’ve now got 10 full-time Manchester City coaches and over 1,000 players attending each week here in Abu Dhabi.”
The school is hosted across three venues: Zayed Sports City, Emirates Palace and New York University Abu Dhabi. Players can join for one term, which covers eight to 10 weeks of football training; half a season, which includes two terms; or a full season, which is for four terms.
Manchester City is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister.
“I think when I first came five years ago, the UAE was starting its football journey and I think they were trying to get better. I would suggest now that they’re actually becoming a lot better and the UAE national teams, both men’s and women’s, have become quite successful recently,” Mr Hewitt said. “I think football is becoming a huge sport in this country and there is no reason to say that they can’t become a world force in the future.”
For 11-year-old Lily Christiansen, being a part of that future world force would be a dream come true. The Raha International School pupil is as aspiring professional athlete who joined CFS last year to improve her football skills.
“It’s fun and you get to do lots of exercises and get better at it each day,” Lily said during a recent session. “It does help me a lot.”
Sarah Christiansen, Lily’s mother, said CFS’s lessons go beyond just drills.
“Her fitness has increased massively and obviously her skill level within football,” she said. “She practices all the time at home because she wants to come here and impress them as well and show them what she’s learnt. I think being in Abu Dhabi, there are not many girls at school that want to do the same sports as she does. So here she’s got lots of females all supporting each other.”
The CFS season continues until June 2017. For more information, visit cityfootballschools.com.
The volunteer-run Abu Dhabi Thistle football club, which is entering its 10th year of operation, also offers all-girls football training on a try-out basis for a limited number of players. Tryouts are taking place this week. For more information, visit abudhabithistlefc.com.
All-girls football training is also available at the Abu Dhabi Youth Football Club, www.youthfootball-uae.com.
Source: uae news